Palme D'Or triumph for film starring amateurs

A FILM about a high school shooting in America won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last night.

Elephant, Gus Van Sant’s experimental movie inspired by the Columbine High School massacre, which was filmedwith an amateur cast, won the Palme D’Or.

The unexpected accolade meant the festival’s hot ticket, Lars von Trier’s Dogville, starring Nicole Kidman, left the French resort empty-handed.

The screenwriting prize went to Denys Arcand for The Barbarian Invasions. He also directed the French-Canadian film about a man who confronts death with humour and sharp intelligence. The movie seemed to touch the most hearts in Cannes, and had many viewers wiping away tears.

Marie-Jose Croze, who plays a young drug addict recruited to supply the dying man with heroin to ease his pain, won the award for best actress.

The jury prize went to At Five in the Afternoon, by 23-year-old Samira Makhmalbaf of Iran. The movie - her third to show in Cannes - is about a spirited young Afghan who dreams of being her country’s first woman president.

Reconstruction by Denmark’s Christoffer Boe, won the Camera d’Or, an award for the best film by a first-time director.

The prize for best short film went to Australia’s Glendyn Ivin for Cracker Bag, a film about a girl who saves her pocket change to buy firecrackers.

The grand prix was awarded to the Turkish film Uzak, meaning Distant, set in Istanbul under the snow and dealing with emotional isolation between two cousins who skirt around each other without connecting. It was written and directed by 43-year-old Nuri Bilge Ceylan who was also behind the camera and at the editing table. The two cousins, Mehmet Emin Toprak, who is actually Celan’s cousin, and Muzaffer Ozdemir, a friend of the director, shared the best acting prize.

The prize-giving ceremonies last night brought to an end a festival that pushed the boundaries and tested the patience; from the now infamous oral sex scene in Vincent Gallo’s road movie The Brown Bunny to a three-way encounter in Julio Bressane’s A Love Movie from Brazil - where all seemed determined to be graphic rather than discreet.

Some of the raunchiest and grittiest action around involved Ewan McGregor and partners Tilda Swinton and Emily Mortimer in David Mackenzie’s generally much admired Young Adam, which many believed should have been included in the official selection but instead it remained prizeless in Un Certain Regard, the sideshow event.

More importantly for its future, the film has been the subject of hot sales interest from around the world.

At the other end of the scale, a feast of special effects confronted the senses with the European unveiling of The Matrix Reloaded, a special screening bolstered by its stars Keanu Reeves, Monica Belucchi, Carrie Anne Moss and Laurence Fishburne.

Critics said it helped to erase the memory of the "woeful" swashbuckler Fanfan la Tulipe with Penelope Cruz and Vincent Perez which opened the 56th edition 12 days ago with a fizzle rather than a fanfare.

Despite earlier fears that the festival might suffer from France’s anti-American sensibility there was plenty of star power from such heavyweights as Clint Eastwood, presenting his thriller Mystic River, and Arnold Schwarzenegger clogging up the Croisette and the rest of the town with his antics to promote Terminator 3.

Some reputations were made or at least set on the road to burgeoning career. The Edinburgh-educated half-Scot Emily Young who, after taking her English degree at Edinburgh University studied film in Poland, scored with her debut feature Kiss of Life about a dead woman who meets her husband (Peter Mullan) in a strange limbo land.

During the week there was news of several upcoming projects, notably one featuring Kristin Scott Thomas, about the origin of the human species to be made in Scotland and South Africa by French director Regis Wargnier.

Budgeted at 20 million, Man to Man is jointly scripted by Scottish novelist William Boyd and the director, Steve Clark Hall, a Scot based in London, who is on board the project as an assistant producer.

Meanwhile, Irvine Welsh is to direct his first film, which he is also scripting. Soul Crew will be set against a violent background of football casuals and the Burberry Boys who wrought mayhem in soccer grounds in the 1980s and 1990s.